Sri Lanka’s hotels, beaches, eateries now empty of tourists

Hotel occupancy in Sri Lanka dropped by 85%-90% after the attacks. (AFP/File)
Updated 16 May 2019

Sri Lanka’s hotels, beaches, eateries now empty of tourists

  • Tourism makes up almost 4% of Sri Lanka’s GDP
  • Authorities are mostly worried about the travel bans issued by some states

HIKKADUWA, Sri Lanka: Sipping fresh coconut water while sunbathing on deserted Hikkaduwa beach, Alexi Konchayenko, a sports trainer from Ukraine, struck a stoical note.
Bomb blasts can happen “anywhere, anytime,” he said, adding that he was not afraid. “Sri Lanka is an amazing country. This is my first visit and I will tell my friends also to come.”
His is a lone voice — and a lone presence. Sri Lanka was the Lonely Planet guide’s top travel destination for 2019, but since the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and luxury hotels, foreign tourists have fled.
Many of those booked to come in the next few months have canceled. Hotel occupancy across the island has plummeted by 85% to 90%. The tropical beaches, restaurants and shops are empty.
The coordinated suicide bombings on April 21 not only destroyed lives but also wiped out the livelihoods of Sri Lankans who depend on tourism.
More than 250 people, including 45 foreigners mainly from China, India, the US and the UK, died in the Daesh group-claimed blasts.
Tourists normally come to Hikkaduwa, in the southwest, for the strong waves that are perfect for surfing and sparkling clear waters made for snorkeling. Today, of the 27 hotels, very few are open. Most, along with the eateries that line the 6-kilometer stretch of palm-fringed beach, are closed.
Among the few hotels still open is Hikkaduwa Beach Hotel. On April 21, all 50 rooms were occupied; today, only a handful. “It’s a real disaster. We don’t know what to do right now,” said Sanjeewani Yogarajah, an executive with the hotel. She said the attack has cost the hotel $31,000, forcing the hotel’s management to send half the staff home.
Some tourism officials say the damage to the industry after the bombings is worse than during the 26-year civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government which ended a decade ago. At least then, the violence was mostly contained to the north of Sri Lanka, they said. This time, no part of the island has remained untouched by the blasts.
Lankesha Ponnamperuma, general manager of hotel chain Hikka Tranz, is one of the luckier ones. While most hotels report wholesale cancelations, he is surviving thanks to business from local residents. Last Friday, two-thirds of the 150 rooms were booked, mostly by domestic tourists.
“I haven’t sacked anyone yet. Instead, we are training our people to adjust their expenditure and helping them restructure their bank loans,” Ponnamperuma said.
The president of Sri Lanka’s Hotels Association, Sanath Ukwatta, said hotels have offered 30-50% discounts to entice local residents.
Such a strategy won’t solve the problem, he said, but will “help at least to keep the hotels going.”
The manager of a clothing shop said the owner had shut the group’s other two shops and the factory too. “Business collapsed after April 21,” said Kumari, who declined to give her surname.


Jet catches fire in northern California; 10 aboard unhurt

Updated 30 min ago

Jet catches fire in northern California; 10 aboard unhurt

OROVILLE, California: All 10 people aboard a small jet escaped injury Wednesday after the aircraft aborted its takeoff at a small Northern California airport, went off the runway and burst into flames, officials said.
The pilot of the twin-engine Cessna Citation jet aborted its takeoff at Oroville Municipal Airport for unknown reasons shortly before noon, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.
The plane was carrying two pilots and eight passengers, and “all were accounted for, no injuries,” said Joe Deal, Oroville’s fire and police chief.
The jet had complications during takeoff that resulted in its catching fire, he said.
It slid off the end of the runway, sparking a fire in the dry grass. Photos and video from witnesses shows the jet’s door open and its landing gear apparently retracted. Officials briefly closed nearby Highway 162 before controlling the grass fire at less than two acres.
“They were out of the plane quickly,” said Rick Carhart, a spokesman the CalFire/Butte County Fire Department that assisted at the scene. By the time the first fire engine arrived, “the people had already gotten off and vacated the area very quickly.”
Carhart said he didn’t know if the jet caught fire before or after it left the runway.
The plane was flying from Oroville to Portland International Airport in Oregon, Gregor said.
An FAA website says the model 560XL jet was manufactured in 2003 and is registered to Jotts LLC, with an address that tracks to a firm based in Wilmington, Delaware, that provides registered agent services to multiple companies.
Deal said it was a personally chartered jet, and its corporate passengers had stayed overnight in Oroville.
“It was attempting to take off, but early reports show that it never made it off the ground,” Deal said. The jet slid off the northern end of the runway onto a grassy area, but it never left the airport property. It was fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived.
Firefighters were able to quickly control the grass fire, but it took more than an hour to extinguish the jet, partly because it had just taken on 400 gallons of jet fuel, he said. A crash truck from nearby Chico sprayed the jet with foam to help extinguish the blaze.
The airport, which does not have commercial flights, remained open.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate. It typically takes the NTSB a year or more to determine a probable cause of an accident, Gregor said.